Why modern kids films have ditched the chosen one

2013 saw the release of a film that sold a message antithetical to the upbeat ‘you can do it if you really try!’ cheerleading prevalent in kids’ movies. ‘Sometimes you can’t do it’, said this film, ‘even if you really, really, really try’.

It’s not as bleak a caution as it might seem. An imaginative scenario in which the hero fails but adapts teaches a useful lesson about flexibility (a skill parents might agree can be a tricky one for kids to take on). Wishing upon a star, working your socks off, thinking you can… in real life none of that guarantees a result. Isn’t it about time kids’ movies became comfortable with that idea?

The makers of Monsters University think so. They told the story of Mike Wazowski, a young monster with big dreams of being a professional Scarer. Years of focused hard work led Mike to study Scaring at the titular college, only for him to discover that he simply didn’t have it in him. All the hard work and ‘wanting it’ in the world couldn’t replace what he was missing: the natural quality of being scary.

“What you lack simply cannot be taught.”

Perhaps Mike’s plight wouldn’t have been so easy to accept had Monsters University not been a prequel to 2001’s Monsters Inc., a film in which the same Mike Wazowski revolutionises Scaring and saves the day. Safe in the knowledge that he went on to great things at a later date, we could happily watch the hero fail. Even so, it was a novel move from the prequel’s writers (and didn’t get in the way of the film taking over $700 million internationally).

Monsters University isn’t the only recent family film to reject traditional victory narratives in favour of more realistic life lessons. The excellent Kung Fu Panda franchise and The LEGO Movie both subvert the concept of the prophesied hero not by making the lead a ‘nobody’ (from Star Wars to Harry Potter, nobodies turning out to be somebodies has long been the shape of family film), but by swapping destiny and determinism for choice and motivation.

Prophecy shmophecy, say these kids’ pictures; heroes aren’t born, they’re made. Moreover, they’re self-made.

Read the full feature at Den of Geek, here.